Archive for July, 2004

Travel updates

Saturday, July 31st, 2004

[ from the turin-milan-rome-ottawa dept. ]

Photos (from left to right): The Ottawa Linux Symposium, A weekend in Rome, Teaching embedded engineering in sunny Turin, dfb’s summer BBQ.

This month has featured three trips overseas, an ipod acquisition, talk of ventures new and miscellany ranging from Geocacheing with Canadians to late night bar conversations with Americans in Rome. Regular readers have been waiting for this update for a while now but I’ve been busy – and let’s face it, this is mostly for my benefit and those of my resident stalkers anyway. Suffice it to say that three return flights later I am slightly more comfortable with the flying thing and I have decided Ottawa is one of the most civilised and enjoyable places one could visit on planet Earth.

I encountered a large amount of change at Linux User as well as elsewhere and realised that life is about living and doing new and interesting things. I must travel more often and experience the richness that is out there – I want to go to the States this year (visiting New York and Washington would be a good start but I would also like to see Boulder in Colorado and other more scenic American locales), Paris (having only ever been around it and to other parts of France), and other parts of Europe and Northern America. On the magazine front, I am now writing for several Linux magazines and am considering ways in which I can take writing further.

Meeting my foreign counterparts reminds me of just how much fun working with GNU and Linux really is and how much I want to continue to assist that cute little furry penguin in his attempt at global domination. Speaking of domination, I randomly met a dominatrix on a train recently – I bet none of you can claim that (whether you would admit to it or not is another matter). She has only one client and he pays her to kick him in his nads…but hey he did pay for her to visit the UK and that made for somewhat of an interesting conversation on the way home one night.

I have been listening to Katie Melua and The Corrs although I am starting to see the appeal in a variety of other music (my ipod has everything from System Of A Down and Slayer to Kylie Minogue and Handel on it). ipod Linux is now installed on the ipod but it will need re-installing when the replacement unit arrives. I quite like the ipod hardware however the casing on my unit is suffering from some alignment issues and this necessitates that it be swapped out soon. Whatever you do avoid any situation where iTunes is syncing music and you
either lose power or disconnect the ipod as it may well trash its internal metadata which the ipod cannot independently regenerate itself – so in plain English this means that you lose access to your music and have to either do another resync or reinstall the unit from scratch (I have done this tiwce as a result of incidents using iTunes). Apple should fix their software and add support to the next ipod firmware for scanning its internal disk so that one does not have to use their software to upload music (so that will never happen because they obviously want you to use iTunes).

I have not had much chance at violin practice and my Maths related reading has taken too much of a backseat in preference to the Embedded Systems material on esoteric Microcontroller architectures (Z80 and MC6800 mostly) and ARM. I have now got several different ARM systems and have been built various toolchains with varying levels of success. Finally had a second driving test and managed to fail – mostly on maneouvres once again. Perhaps I can get a short notice test in August and finally get a piece of paper which says I can drive so I can quit worrying about getting a parallel park right first time every time! I might then buy a car at some point later this year – I am quite fond of Hannah and Joe Wrigley’s Ford Ka, but also like the economical VW Polo and a number of others – I am not sure that one can really get a “green” friendly car but it is probably worth researching a little to find out which manufacturer is rated least evil.

Visiting Italia

A large GNU/Linux vendor asked if I might give an Embedded Engineering training course in sunny Turin. Who was I to refuse such a proposal – I figured it would be something worth doing. I travelled up to Birmingham to meet Hannah and Joe Wrigley on the 3rd July, went with them to dfb’s BBQ in Nottingham at lunchtime on the 4th July, and then flew out to Milano Linate on the last flight from Heathrow (for those reading in lands afare, this means 19:50 because certain Londoners dislike the noise of planes taking off and landing late at night). I flew with Alitalia on a small Airbus plane, having checked out the airline safety record and plane total cabin loss statistics prior to travel. The only serious problem involving this airline in recent times was an incident in which a wing was removed after landing by a truck striking a plane, although there were apparently no injuries. Statistics say I can fly for more than 36000 years without incident but that does not in general make me feel any better when I am on a plane.

When I arrived in Milan I took a coach service to a nearby railway station (I believe that it did go to the Central Station but it was late, I was quite tired, and do not speak much Italian), travelled in to the Central Station and waited for a train to Torino. After some time a service did depart for Turin and arrived in the early hours of the Monday morning. I spent several hours setting up equipment on the Monday morning before the training session actually began. For the rest of the week I showed a group of experienced Embedded Systems engineers how to produce their own ARM Linux toolchains and compile up kernels and userland environments. The whole experience was most interesting indeed.

I had some time to explore the Torino area on a few occasions towards the end of the week and discovered that Turin is a stunning corner of the north west of Italy. It is well situated near to the Alps and is to be the home of the 2006 Winter Olympic Games. While it is true that English speaking Italians are less common in the area, the regional government are providing free English lessons to those in the service industries (such as taxi drivers) prior to the 2006 Games. As can be seen from the photos taken, I enjoyed the nightlife around the city center and River Po on the Friday evening. I especially enjoyed the local Pizza and Ice Cream, for which Italy is famous.

A complication at the Hotel meant that I left late on the Saturday and missed the originally planned flight. Consequently it was necessary to book a short notice replacement however this did give some time to explore the Milano area briefly. I took a train to the Cathedral area and saw a number of designer shops as well as what might be the world’s most stylish McDonalds (see photo). Milan is certainly an area that I would like to visit again sometime for a long lunch and an afternoon coffee intermixed with shopping expeditions.

A weekend in Rome

I spent a week in the UK following my trip to Torino and got some work done before popping in to Rome for a long weekend with some work colleagues. Hetal, Mark, and I flew out on the 16th of July on an early morning Ryanair flight and were in Rome in time for lunch. We stayed at the excellent Camping Tiber campsite and spent four days exploring the local area and mixing with other residents on the evenings. I met a group of girls from Las Vegas and their friends on the first night and we stayed up late drinking at the bar.

Rome really is a fascinating place to visit. There is of course a wonderful amount of ancient culture to be discovered although parts of the city are clearly in need of some investment – such as the area around the River Tiber itself. We visited the Vatican, the Colosseum, and the Pantheon, as well as the Spanish Steps, a number of eateries, fountains, and many other places besides. The weekend was quite an experience and I enjoyed it very much.

Calling America

I have just come back to the UK from the 2004 Ottawa Linux Symposium. This was my first visit to North America and I found the Canadians most welcoming and friendly indeed. Ottawa is surely one of the most wonderful places on Earth – so amazingly clean for a major city and yet full of an inspired mix of anglo-franco-American culture which one could surely not hope to rivial anywhere else. The City itself is young in comparison with most other major international cities however it has a number of interesting sites to be taken in and the view of the Parliament and Canal by night is quite simply breathtaking. I especially enjoyed walking across the Alexandra Bridge in to Quebec and taking some photos of Ottawa from the bridge itself.

The Ottawa Linux Symposium was an absolutely enjoyable experience, with so many major faces to be seen and even the chance to meet Linus himself (which gave me chance to quiz him over the issue of kernel debuggers and other related stuff). I flew to Canada on Air Canada flight AC889 from London Heathrow which departed terminal 3 at 15:30 on Tuesday (I was in Rome until Monday evening and so planned to go home and pack quickly however missed the last train in the evening so had to spend several hours sleeping at Paddington railway station and travelled on an early morning train. I missed the first train because I was asleep but did get a shower and then got home in time to quickly pack and catch the RailAir coach service from Reading to Heathrow) and arrived in Ottawa in time for the first night pre-OLS party.

I stayed at the Les Suites hotel very near to the conference center itself, with agk and Ken. We had good pizza next door to the bar on that first evening. Perhaps the highlight of the early evening was talking to Alan and various others while he demonstrated a novel way of using his homemade drinking straw. Later on I went to another pub (an Irish themed pub) with the guys from Montavista as well as a bunch of other embedded types and had a few softdrinks and enough coffee to keep an army going for a while (I has pretty tired and I decided alcohol was really not a good idea at that point). These guys stayed out until the bar closed and we had to return to the Hotel. Since I was increadibly tired by around 03:00, I decided to go to bed after that.

Les Suites is an excellent Hotel and has wifi in parts so I was able to read my email in the mornings. On the first day, I went to the talks but took some time out around lunchtime to look around the city and became infatuated with its amazing asthetical quality. I encountered two cyclists with GPSes and inquired as to whether they were Geocacheing. Chris and Diane said that they were and invited me to join them in locating an ellusive cache which had been recently installed by a local Ottawa resident and Linux user (it’s a small world really huh?). I have a snail Travel Bug which needs to be registered and sent on his way around the world (I should do that).

On the first evening I missed out on an apparently dissappointing dinner event which had been sponsored by AMD after I returned to the Hotel for a few minutes and passed out from excessive tiredness. Still I am told I did not miss much and the upshot of this was that I was awake bright and early on the following morning in time to explore. In fact I got distracted (in a good way) during breakfast and left the Hotel later than I had originally planned. The talks were typicaly of high quality – I concentrated mostly on those happening in Room A because they tended to be kernel related. On the first day Jens Axboe gave a very interesting talk on Block IO, while Keith Packard spoke about the trials of making X less dependent upon specific hardware. The talk on dynamic kernel modules was pretty interesting and needs some followup.

The second day included a very interesting talk on scalability of Linux 2.6 (did you know there was a livelock problem in the scheduler due to the time taken in cache coherency overhead meaning that timer interrupts came around too fast to be handled?). There was some material on the Power5 which would be even more cool if IBM would send me one to review. Rusty Russell discussed the issues of adding (reasonably straightforward) and removing (a lot more involved) CPUs from a running Linux system and Dave Hansen followed this up by giving a similar coverage for memory devices aswell. The crashdump BOF sessions were enlightening, mostly because of the level of conversation which the group collectively created – I have already mentioned that I met Linus and talked to him about the issues of kernel debugging and I have made a few observations in this month’s column. I hope that we do get some traceing support added to the kernel soon at any rate. I had some good chinese at a private party on Thursday night.

Friday was pretty cool. There were interesting talks on IO scheduling performance (do not use AS with RAID5 on any sizeable system was one observation which was noted there) and Power-aware sensor systems (but this could have been much more interesting if it had delved in to the coding issues), and I enjoyed these as much as any other, but what made my day was having a banana split with someone I met during my stay in Ottawa. I was invited to a club called the Firestation and did turn up but could not find the people I was trying to meet so left early – but I did grab some food at the restaurant below called Mash – I do however certainly have a motivation to return to Ottawa when I am next in Canada I hope.

On Saturday I went to part of Alan Robertson’s High-Availability talks and one talk which was changed at the last minute, before attending the GPG keysigning session which was hosted by Matthew Wilcox. As can be seen from the GPG web of trust statistics I am well on my way to becomming part of the strong set. I had some food in a little cafe with the Montavista folks as well as Liberty, Russell King, and a host of others, before I had to leave to catch the 23:20 Air Canada return flight AC888 to London Heathrow. On the return flight I was pre-occupied with thoughts of when I could next visit Canada.

Heathrow terminal 3 was quite busy and we were delayed in leaving the aircraft, and in obtaining our baggage afterwards, so I was glad to get to Paddington on the Heathrow Express in time to have a 5 minute shower and catch a train to Cornwall in order to join my extended family and grandmother in celebrating her 80th birthday. I have been in Cornwall for the last week and hope to provide an update with some photos of the wonderful countryside which I was able to experience. I probably need to post a few more updates here to get things completely up to date but this will do for now.